Voters may take initiative in tax issues

Cue the music Money, money, money, money, MONEY.

Or, as they’re singing it in Olympia: Taxes, taxes, taxes, taxes, TAXES.

Not quite as catchy but about the only tune playing in the Capitol these days where majority Democrats debate what taxes to raise and by how much.

This may become the theme song of the political season in Washington if some of the many proposed and threatened initiatives reach the November ballot.

In the works are measures aimed at controlling, reforming and repealing taxes as well as generating tax revenues by putting sale of liquor in the hands of the private sector. With politically powerful figures and deep-pocketed firms involved, chances are good voters will see them on the ballot.

Here are four which could really stir it up.

Restoring the soul of I-960: Tim Eyman of Mukilteo is gathering signatures for Initiative 1053 to re-impose a bit of discipline on lawmakers when they want to raise taxes. It’s an old-school idea to require that tax increases be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or a vote of the people.

Voters set this bar when they passed Initiative 960 in 2007 then watched the Democrats remove it to forge ahead on this year’s $800 million tax package. This seems a sure hit if it qualifies. Eyman hasn’t even collected the usual six-figure donation from ally Michael Dunmire for paid signature-gatherers. Eyman’s either filling up petitions quickly or there’s a rift we haven’t heard about yet from a duo seeking another huge political victory.

An income tax on the rich: A decision is days away on whether to push Initiative 1077 or one of its variations to impose an income tax on the wealthy, end the business and occupation tax for small companies and reduce the state property tax levy by 20 percent. Those earning $200,000 a year or $400,000 per couple would be taxed.

Knoll Lowney, the progressive Seattle attorney who’s been Dino Rossi’s nemesis of late, is huddling with the likes of Bill Gates Sr. on this one. Veteran political playmaker Kelly Evans is reportedly shopping for a signature-gathering firm.

Initiative designers are scouting for money and pondering polls. The timing may not be right to push a new form of taxation — even one targeting the rich — when the public is in no mood for taxes on anyone at all.

Sinking the soda pop tax: If lawmakers tack an excise tax of 2 cents on each 12-ounce can of carbonated beverage this week, producers and bottlers of the products will almost certainly ask voters to repeal it in November.

This is a not-so-discreet threat the Washington Beverage Association made long ago to lawmakers. With members who are bottlers for Pepsi Cola and Coca Cola, there’s no doubt the group can carry it out. The question is whether they will go alone or team with grocers, bottled water companies and makers of beer and candy on a broader initiative to roll back several pieces of the package Democrats are pushing.

Privatizing liquor sales:

On Tuesday, an initiative will be filed to get the state out of the liquor business. Unlike the income tax idea, timing may be perfect for this measure.

Privatization is getting lots of attention this year and public sentiment is favoring it right now. Strategies 360, the machine run by political handyman Ron Dotzauer, will steer the effort that’s been in development since February.

Voters will hear often how ending a Prohibition-era practice will generate millions more dollars for the state than the existing system.

There will be no lack of funds to spread the message as powerhouses in the grocery world —can you say Costco?—and smaller retailers are expected to back the effort.

It’s possible none of these will make it.

Then again, it’s possible they all will and the results could have the state Legislature singing the blues in 2011.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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